Dawn Marsh is Assistant Professor of History at Purdue University. This interview is based on her new book, A Lenape Among the Quakers (University of Nebraska Press, March 2014).
JF: What led you to write A Lenape Among the Quakers?
DM: It began with the publication of the document “An Examination of Hannah Freeman,” c. 1797 in the Notes and Documents section of the Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography. It stood out because it was identified as the oldest autobiography of a Native American, but more importantly it captured the voice of a Native American woman in the eighteenth century. The document is a deposition conducted by Moses Marshall for the purpose of admitting Hannah Freeman into the newly built Chester County poorhouse. The document and subsequent sources opened a window into the life of a Lenape woman during one of the most traumatic periods in the history of her people and the history of Pennsylvania. As a Native American historian and a Pennsylvanian by birth, I knew that the mythologized version of William Penn’s “peaceable kingdom” over-shadowed a more complicated story of early settlement and interaction with Pennsylvania Indians. Hannah Freeman’s story, situated largely in Chester County offers another perspective on this story.
JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of A Lenape Among the Quakers?
DM: Hannah Freeman’s life challenges the mythologized “peaceable kingdom” narrative by establishing that colonization and dispossession are never peaceful. Further, Hannah’s story shows that acculturation was a two-way exchange: both Hannah and her Quaker neighbors moderated and altered their lives to accommodate each other in order to preserve and protect their ways of life and live as neighbors on the lands guaranteed to the Lenape by William Penn’s treaties.
JF: Why do we need to read A Lenape Among the Quakers?
DM: Hannah Freeman’s story is one of resilience, tenacity, and cooperation. There are few histories of colonial America that give readers a chance to understand what life was like for a Native American woman during the eighteenth century. It moves beyond the usual histories of settler-Indian relations and offers readers an intimate view of day to day co-existence between English settlers and Native Americans. Hannah Freeman’s quiet life in a rural corner of the British colonies was touched and altered by some of the most important events in early American history. It is also a story of courage, suspense, bravery and heart. The book is meticulously researched to satisfy and encourage new scholarship. But it is written as a narrative that invites general readers, students, and scholars to better understand the experiences of Native American women and families during this period.
JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?
DM: Well—I should begin by saying that I don’t consider myself an American historian. My research and teaching interests are primarily in Native American and Indigenous history. Several of my projects use global comparisons with other indigenous peoples under British colonialism: Maori in New Zealand and Aborigines in Australia as example.
As for my chosen profession, there are several threads that weave through my life that led me to this career. I grew up in Appalachian Pennsylvania and was surrounded by rivers, creeks, mountains, and trails that retained their Algonquian names. I also had the good fortune to regularly visit Gettysburg during my formative years that further enhanced my fascination for the invisible past that was all around me. As I earned my Ph.D in history, I cross trained in archaeology. I was able to weave together a career that allowed me to do research both in the archives and the field. My first major research project for my M.A. investigated how the archaeological record impacted a historian’s interpretation of the Paxton Massacre—the career path was set.
JF: What is your next project?
DM: Currently I have two book-length research projects in their early stages. The first is titled The Sons of Peace: Delaware Indian Nationalism in the Early American Republic– will examine the political and social transformation of the Delaware from the 1750s to the 1830s situated largely in western Pennsylvania and Ohio territories. Three avenues of investigation provide the framework for this study. First, is the close examination of Delaware leadership during this period considering the sources of power and the transition from traditional clan-based paths of leadership to new channels of political authority. Secondly, the role of Quaker mediators during this period and finally, I will study the characteristics of Delaware towns and refugee settlements that rise and fall in relationship to those leaders.
The second project, already under contract is titled, The Red Carpet: Indigenous Filmmakers Beyond the Rez, examines the impact of indigenous filmmakers on the representations of indigenous peoples in mainstream narrative and documentary films over the last twenty-five years. This project stems from my experience as a film critic in southern California and my expertise in Native American and indigenous studies.
Thank you, Dawn!
Thanks to Megan Piette for organizing and facilitating The Author’s Corner
Leave a Reply
You must be logged in to post a comment.